The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System says the current wait time for new patients is "unacceptable," and steps are being taken to improve access to care.
Acting public affairs officer Dorothea McBride told WSFA 12 News in an email Wednesday that delivering high-quality care to veterans is a top priority, and CAVHS is taking several actions.
WSFA has repeatedly asked for interviews and access to the Montgomery and Tuskegee VA medical centers. Those requests which have not yet been granted. McBride said Central Alabama VA Director James Talton was out of town on business.
According to McBride, CAVHS has done the following things to increase access:
CAVHCS entered into an agreement with a Medical Provider Group to see over 500 Veterans residing in the Columbus, Georgia area
Expanded Tele-Mental Health (includes Tele-PTSD, Tele-homeless, Tele-Social Work Therapy, Tele-Psycology therapy, Tele-Insomnia clinic, Tele-Stress management, Tele-Depression group therapy)
Eliminated Carve Out appointments and opened up all slots to all patients
Expanded Clinic hours and offering Saturday clinics for Primary Care patients
Added Vesting Clinics
Added an extra appointment slot to the grid in some Specialty Clinics
Hired additional providers
E-consults within CAVHCS and Inter-facility (E-consults mean some medical questions can be answered without a face to face visit)
Telemedicine Neurology/Neurosurgery with Birmingham VA Medical Center
Realigned approximately ten (10) nursing staff to Consult Case Management duties to prioritize consults and reduce consult waiting times.
Hired an Orthopedist who is currently on duty
Selected a Urologist (Start date is pending)
The Department of Veterans Affairs released its audit Monday, looking into long wait times at health facilities. The numbers show that the facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee have some of the nation's longest waits for new patients.
As a result of the initial audit findings, there were 10 locations in the VA Southeast Network that were flagged for further review and investigation into suspected misconduct. The Montgomery and Tuskegee locations were included on that list.
Alabama Congressman Martha Roby is blaming the Central Alabama VA Director, James Talton, for misleading her. She says employees Talton said had been relieved of their duties actually had been reassigned to other facilities She says Talton has since apologized.
"If a member of Congress can't get a straight answer from the VA, just think what our veterans go through on a daily basis," Roby said in a statement Wednesday.
Laird Culver says he's surprised to see the VA medical centers in Montgomery and Tuskegee on the list of those doing disservice to veterans. Culver is the commander of the Alabama Disabled American Veterans which has 33 chapters across the state.
"It's a crying shame when veterans who have served their country and served their county honorably have problems getting medical care and getting seen in the VA offices. And that's our chief concern," he said. "At the same time, it's our concern that the government fully fund the Veterans Administration and fully fund those hospitals and medical centers that are taking care of veterans so that their staff is fully staffed and that their administrative department is fully staffed so that they can process the claims in a timely manner and get to the veterans to give them services."
Culver says veteran service organizations can help vets navigate the VA waters. Local chapters of the DAV have chapter service officers that can help with paperwork and other questions vets might have as far as services that are available to them. They also have national service officers and hospital service coordinators that work inside the VA regional offices.
"I recommend that a veteran go to a veterans service organization and get a chapter service officer to look at their paperwork. Don't try to do it on your on because that's where it may get lost in the shuffle. If you allow a veterans service officer to be your representative, they can go and check on your claim and see what's going on," Culver told WSFA.
The following is a listing of national, regional, or local organizations recognized by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims under laws administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs:
African American PTSD Association
American Red Cross
American Ex-Prisoners of War, Inc.
American GI Forum, National Veterans Outreach Program
Armed Forces Services Corporation
Army and Navy Union, USA
Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America
Blinded Veterans Association
Catholic War Veterans of the U.S.A.
Disabled American Veterans
Fleet Reserve Association
Gold Star Wives of America, Inc.
Italian American War Veterans of the United States, Inc.
Jewish War Veterans of the United States
Legion of Valor of the United States of America, Inc.
Marine Corps League
Military Order of the Purple Heart
National Amputation Foundation, Inc.
National Association of County Veterans Service Officers, Inc.
National Association for Black Veterans, Inc.
National Veterans Legal Services Program
National Veterans Organization of America
Navy Mutual Aid Association
Paralyzed Veterans of America, Inc.
Polish Legion of American Veterans, U.S.A.
Swords to Plowshares, Veterans Rights Organization, Inc.
The Retired Enlisted Association
The Veterans Assistance Foundation, Inc.
The Veterans of the Vietnam War, Inc. & The Veterans Coalition